August 3, 2003
‘…they rely on the “end of month money”, when they are not travelling to places like Antigua, St Maarten, Martinique, Guyana and other Caribbean countries to work unfamiliar streets’
By Carol Martindale
THE ROOMS are small and somewhat dinky. There is hardly space to move around.
But importantly, there is a bed.
These rooms, which prostitutes use to conduct their nightly business, are outfitted with single beds and small sinks and plastic basins.
The beds are properly made up, complete with sheets and pillows (one for each bed). In between clients, the ladies of the night make sure the beds are tidied again for use.
Most of the rooms, located upstairs some bars in Nelson Street and Bay Street are neatly tucked away in the back corners, and behind closed doors, away from the crowds that swarm these night spots during the witching hours. Twenty minutes in one of these dingy rooms can give a man the pleasure he is seeking and the woman the pennies in her purse - up to $80 depending on the nature of the business.
In these red light districts girls are diligently and busily hustling and working the bars and streets to make a dollar. They playfully lure clients one by one and start the process by asking “you looking for business tonight?”
They look over their clients critically to be as sure as possible that they are not undercover cops, or tricksters or known robbers. They size up a client and decide whether he is worth a try.
Our trip brought us face to face with several of these girls, some scantily clad, seductively dancing the length and breadth of the darkened room in the hope of appealing to the weakness of lustful men who tend to sit around the bars, clearly very thirsty. There were others huddled in close corners too, following the girls with their eyes, and their desires.
Every city has its red light districts and 375-year-old Bridgetown is certainly no exception.
“Things slow tonight,” said one prostitute, dressed only in a short white dress with barely enough string holding it together at both sides, boots and a matching white lace underwear.
Not shy at all, this sex worker said she did not have one fare for the night, and it was 10 p.m. But she said she was hopeful.
Another who was working that particular bar, was upset she had only turned one trick thus far. Eager to make some money, she continued gyrating her hips to the raunchy dub lyrics that belted out from the club’s sound system.
At that same bar, the working girl holding a key to the room was obliging and agreed to show it to us. She turned the door knob and flicked the light switch to reveal the contents of the room. For privacy, she said the girls would have a key to lock themselves in (smaller bars) while others would use the turn clip which would block others from entering.
Inside the room there was the bed and the face sink. No smell surprisingly. But why the basin? She explained it was for the girls to do a quick fresh up and go again. She said some rooms also came equipped with some toiletries, including antiseptic liquid, and even condoms. It is in these rooms that they get down to the business at hand.
Outside on the street bolder men approached some prostitutes for sexual favours.
In almost every case the men seemed oblivious to the presence of others as they followed the prostitutes in tow. One was an elderly man, propping on the door of a bar, with eyes closing, waiting for his favourite prostitute. Another elderly man walked closely behind a prostitute and quickly disappeared behind the doors of a house where there are rooms rented to the prostitutes to do their business.
For 25-minute sessions, clients pay $65 to $80, depending on the precise requirement of the client.
Fairy, a prostitute, said there were some girls who would do everything - oral or anal, for extra money, even at the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. This then cuts out the girls who stick to giving just “straight sex”.
“There are girls who would do every and anything because it is more money for them. The others get cut out of business, because they don’t do everything,” said Fairy, who came here about two years ago from Guyana.
She works the streets, was quick to explain the difference between street girls and bar girls. Those on the street are a little more concerned about their dress, even while still flashing some intimate flesh; those working the bar circuit are scantily dressed, seemingly less concerned about how much is showing and hanging out.
But whether they are in the bar or on the street, the girls speak of the dangers of the street and the risks they face every night.
They, however, say they are under pressure to make money.
The prostitutes have to pay $10 to the bar owners for the use of the rooms, plus give their pimps a slice of the pie. Oh, not to mention taxi fare, as the girls rely on taxis to get them home after a hard night’s work.
The girls are under even more pressure when business is slow.
“There are some days you don’t make a cent. When you make money you gotta be happy because there are a lot of times when things are dead,” said one.
The working girls reported that Crop-Over is usually a slow period for them, since most clients who would normally spend big bucks for a quick roll in the hay, would save their coppers for drinks and fetes.
Christmas is also dead. But business is booming, according to them, around cricket season.
Outside of these seasons, they rely on the “end of month money”, when they are not travelling to places like Antigua, St Maarten, Martinique, Guyana and other Caribbean countries to work unfamiliar streets.
They also hustle during the day, but the scene is different.
Some arrange to meet their repeat customers during the day.
“Some of our clients also have cell numbers and they will call us or we call them during the day when things real dead” said a prostitute on the street.
It is when business is slow that “real foolishness does happen” they reported.
Some girls get desperate and take anything that comes their way.
Sometimes, that includes beatings from their very sick clients.
In fact, even after a price is agreed on, some men beat the women after the transaction, and take back their money and leave them in the room weak and defenceless.
“It’s a risk, but some us got no choice,” said Linda.
“Sometimes we are beaten like dogs. They come and seek us out, pay us and then after they are finished, they beat us or wring our hands and take back the money and there ain’t nothing we can do about it,” she said.
There are other times, said another prostitute, Lou Lou, when clients want to spend longer than the 25 minutes with them. In fact, some want to spend as long as an hour.
“If they want to spend an extra ten minutes, they pay a further $10, but some of these men just go on and on and they don’t pay and we can’t push them off because they real strong”.
Hide under bed
Some of the prostitutes who have lived this experience then resort to “pay back mode”.
They arrange to have other girls or guys sneak into the room, usually before they enter with their Joe and hide under the bed, and then pick their pockets, while “getting down to business”. The pickpockets get away with money and other articles too.
It’s much easier, they say, when the girls go on “sleep outs”.
This is when clients request the girls for the night, right through until morning.
Sleep outs are usually requested by tourists who want the girls to spend the night with them in hotels. For this, the client forks out between $400 and $500.
But apart from the opportunity to make more money, it is also a chance to make off with precious and sometimes expensive items - be it a palm pilot, or digital camera, or movie camera.
The locals rarely ask for sleep outs - they opt only for a few minutes with the girls. And while some use the rooms in the bars to be sexually fulfilled, others use their cars to pick up the girls.
Of course they are discreet when patrolling the streets for prostitutes, slowing down to ask a question.
And while the girls did not disclose the names of their clients, they said their client list is made up mainly of taximen, policemen, Government workers and some “big ups”.
(Reprinted from the July 25 issue of Weekend Nation, Barbados)